Showing posts with label India. Show all posts
Showing posts with label India. Show all posts

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Why India's development is so strange

Every Aussie who takes an interest in such matters knows how a country goes from being undeveloped to developed. We 've been watching our neighbours do the trick for years. It' s called export-oriented growth and it 's all about building a big manufacturing sector.

You encourage under-employed rural workers to move to the city and take jobs in factories. Because your one big economic advantage is an abundant supply of cheap labour, you start by concentrating on making low-cost, simple, labour-intensive items such as textiles, clothing and footwear.

Since the locals don' t have much capacity to buy this stuff, you focus on exporting it. Foreigners lap it up because to them it' s so cheap.

As the plan works and the country 's income rises, you plough a fair bit back into raising the education level of your workers, which allows you to move to making more elaborate goods and to paying higher wages. You 're on the way to being a developed country.

Over the decades we' ve seen a succession of countries climb this ladder: Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan, China and now even Vietnam and Bangladesh at the bottom. It s like pass-the-parcel: as each country' s labour gets too expensive to be used to produce low-value thongs and T-shirts, some poorer country takes over and starts the climb to prosperity.

That 's the way it s always done. Except for one country: India. Its economy started growing strongly in the 1990s and now it' s the world 's third-biggest (provided you measure it correctly, allowing for differences in purchasing power).

India has got this far without building a big, export-oriented manufacturing sector. It 's done something that' s probably unique: skipped the manufacturing stage and gone straight to the rich-country stage, in which most growth in jobs and production comes from services.

The Indians have done it by being so good with software and other information and communications technology and the things that hang off it, such as call centres. It' s a big export earner.

It' s an impressive effort, and there' s no reason a developing country shouldn' t have a big tech sector. But, even so, the experts are saying India would be a lot better off if it had a bigger, more vibrant manufacturing sector, employing a lot more people who, by Indian standards, would be on good wages.

This is a key theme in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development 's report on the Indian economy, issued this week.

The report offers suggestions on what could be done to encourage the growth of manufacturing, which go a fair way towards explaining why manufacturing never really got going the way it did in other emerging market economies .

First, some basic facts. India has a population of 1250 million and before long it will overtake China 's. About 29 per cent of the population is younger than 15.

Manufacturing accounts for only 13 per cent of India' s gross domestic product, which is low compared with the other BRIICS emerging economies: Brazil, Russia, Indonesia and China, but not South Africa.

Indian manufacturing probably accounts for a slightly smaller share of its total employment. Huh? It 's normally the other way round. You 'd expect it to be quite labour intensive. But "despite abundant, low-skilled and relatively cheap labour, Indian manufacturing is surprisingly capital and skill intensive," the report says.

Almost two-thirds of manufacturing employment is in companies with fewer than 10 employees. That compares with Brazil' s 9 per cent. This tells us the sector' s many small firms mean it isn' t exploiting its potential economies of scale.

And, indeed, its manufacturing productivity is low, with productivity 1.6 times higher in China and and 2.9 times in Brazil.

India' s employment in manufacturing hasn' t grown much over the years, with the sector hardest hit by the economy' s recent slowdown. What new jobs have been created have been " informal" , with workers not covered by social security arrangements.

Manufacturing' s share of India' s merchandise or goods exports (that is, ignoring the big and rapidly growing exports of IT services) fell from 77 per cent to 65 per cent over the decade to 2013.

My guess is an important reason for the sector 's unusual configuration and weak growth is excessive regulation. India has been and still is a highly, and badly, regulated economy. The socialists ' obsession with manufacturing means I wouldn' t be surprised if the newer technology sector has taken over the running because, being outside the Left' s traditional preoccupations, it wasn' t so heavily regulated.

Some regulation has been removed but, particularly as they apply to manufacturing, India 's labour and tax laws, which are tougher on bigger than smaller firms, have inhibited and distorted the industry 's development.

As the report puts it, manufacturing "firms have little incentive to employ and grow, since by staying small they can avoid taxes and complex labour regulations".

A second part of the explanation the report points to is what it calls "structural bottlenecks" . As with all developing countries, the whole Indian economy suffers under inadequate economic and social infrastructure.

But manufacturing is particularly reliant on good transport links - more so than the tech sector - and India 's transport infrastructure is still bad.

Every business needs a reliable electricity supply, but manufacturing probably needs it more than most. A business survey has found that 48 per cent of manufacturing firms experience power cuts for more than five hours a week. About 60 per cent of firms feel that erratic power supply affects their competitiveness and they would be willing to pay more for a more reliable supply.

As usual with developing economies, the list of things that need reform is long. The challenge for governments is to give priority to the ones that would do most to help, even though everything is interconnected.

In the case of Indian manufacturing, however, the OECD' s top recommendation is to introduce simpler and more flexible labour law, which doesn' t discriminate by the size of the enterprise.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Climatic adjustment limits our farmers' Asia boom

The first thing to realise about the rise of Asia is that our farmers are about to join our miners in the winners' circle. The second is that climate change and other environmental problems may greatly limit our farmers' ability to exploit this opportunity. The third is that what we see as a looming bonanza, the rest of the world sees as a global disaster.

According to the government's white paper on the Asian century (which, be warned, shares economists' heroic assumption that there are no physical limits to consumption of the world's natural resources), continuing population growth and rising living standards in Asia will cause global food production to grow 35 per cent by 2025, and 70 per cent by 2050.

Rising affluence is expected to change the nature of Asia's food consumption, with greater demand for higher quality produce and protein-rich foods such as meat and dairy products. This will also increase the requirement for animal feed, such as grains. There'll also be demand for a wider range of processed foods and convenience foods, and for beverages, including wine.

But environmental and other problems will prevent the Asians from producing much of the extra food they'll be demanding. Unlike in the past, Asia is likely to become a major importer of food. And, of course, any delay in increasing food production to meet the increasing demand will raise the prices being charged.

You little beauty. "Australia's diverse climate systems and quality of agricultural practices position us well to service strong demand for high-quality food in Asia," the white paper says. After all, Australia is one of the world's top four exporters of wheat, beef, dairy products, sheep, meat and wool.

"As a result, agriculture's share of the Australian economy is expected to rise over the decade to 2025," we're told, something that hasn't happened for many, many decades.

So, a new age of growth and prosperity for Aussie farmers? Don't be too sure. The environmental constraints the white paper expects to bedevil Asian farmers will also limit our farmers' ability to cash in on Asia's growing affluence.

Also published last week was a determinedly positive but franker assessment of our agricultural prospects, Farming Smarter, Not Harder, from the Centre for Policy Development.

It says "winners of the food boom will be countries with less fossil fuel-intensive agriculture, more reliable production and access to healthy land and soils". That's not a good description of us.

The first question is climate change - the problem so many Australians have been persuaded isn't one. Although other countries - including China - are doing more to combat climate change than the punters have been led to believe, we don't yet know how successful global efforts to limit its extent will be.

What we do know is we're already seeing the adverse effects - hurricane Sandy, for instance - and can expect to see a lot more, even if global co-operation is ultimately successful in drawing a line. At present we're focused on efforts to prevent further change; before long we'll need to focus on how we adapt to the change that's unavoidable.

This non-government report says climate change is projected to hit agricultural production harder in the developing world than the developed world - "with the exception of Australia".

"Rainfall is forecast to increase in the tropics and higher latitudes, and decrease in the semi-arid to arid mid-latitudes, as well as the interior of large continents," the report says. "Droughts and floods are expected to become more severe and frequent. More intense rainfall is expected with longer dry periods between extremely wet seasons. The intensity of tropical cyclones is expected to increase."

So, without action to reduce or manage climate risks, Australia's rural production could decline by 13 per cent to 19 per cent by 2050, it says.

And it's not just climate change. "One of the biggest challenges for Australian agriculture is that our soils are low in nutrients and are particularly vulnerable to degradation ... every year we continue to lose soil faster than it can be replaced."

The productivity of broadacre farming used to grow by 2.2 per cent a year; since the early 1990s it's averaged just 0.4 per cent. Australian farmers use a lot of fertilisers and fuel, the cost of which is also likely to rise strongly. And that's not to mention problems with water.

Meanwhile, those who worry about how the world's poor will feed themselves - or about the political instability we know sharp rises in food prices can cause - don't share our hand-rubbing glee at the prospect of Asia's greatly increased demand for food.

Almost as bad as high food prices are highly volatile prices. The three world price spikes in the past five years each coincided with droughts and floods in major food supply regions. Extreme weather events are likely to become even more frequent. (The growing diversion of grain to produce biofuels is another contributor to higher food prices.)

After the food price spike in 2008, 80 million people were pushed into hunger. But the growing concern with "food security" is often a euphemism for resort to beggar-thy-neighbour policies: countries that could export their food surplus to other, more needy countries decide to hang on to it, just in case.

The Asians' attempts to continue their (perfectly understandable) pursuit of Western standards of living are likely to be a lot more problem-strewn than the authors of the white paper are willing to acknowledge.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

How Asia is catching up with the rich West

Asia's transformation into the world's most dynamic economic region has been a defining development of our time. The pace and scale of its rise have been nothing short of staggering.

That's the story according to Julia Gillard's white paper on the Asian century, and it's right.

"Over the past 20 years, one third of the world's population has re-engaged with the global economy and more are set to do so," the paper says. "Living standards for billions of people in Asia have improved at a rate not previously experienced in human history."

Just between 2000 and 2006, about a million people were lifted out of poverty every week in East Asia alone, we're told.

Japan, South Korea, Singapore and, more recently, China and India doubled their income per person within a decade. Some went on to repeat this achievement two or three times.

By contrast, it took Britain more than 50 years to double its income per person during the Industrial Revolution of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Why so long? Because the Industrial Revolution was driven by the invention of new technology and it took a while for new inventions to come along and for their use to spread through the economy.

These days, the economy sitting at this "technological frontier" is the US. In principle, the fastest pace at which America's income per person - its material standard of living - can grow is determined by the pace of what today we call "innovation". And that's not fast - say, 2 per cent a year.

So with the rise of Asia we're seeing a phenomenon economists call "catch-up and convergence". Because all the improved machines and better ways of doing things have already been invented and are sitting on the shelf, so to speak, it's not hard for all the countries well back from the technological frontier to catch up with the leader by employing the new productivity-boosting technology. As they do, their standard of living converges on the leading economy's.

This is what happened in the West in the first 30 years or so after World War II. The economies of Europe (and Japan) grew very strongly and closed most of the gap between their living standards and America's.

Now that process of catch-up - and the global spread of the latest technology - has shifted from the developed countries to the developing countries. Japan was the first, followed by South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan, with China getting going in the 1980s and India in the 1990s. More will follow.

Of course, transforming your economy from developing to developed can't be as simple as taking new technology off the shelf, otherwise all the poor countries of the world would be growing as fast as Asia is.

So how have the Asians done it? What have they got right that the others haven't?

The various countries' success hasn't followed a simple recipe, the paper says, but some common patterns have emerged in recent decades.

Many economists explain Asia's rise mainly in terms of its switch from the post-war policy of "import replacement" (seeking to grow by protecting your industries from competition with imports) to export-led growth.

If, as part of this, you allow foreign multinational corporations to set up factories in your country, they bring in the capital need to pay for building those factories, as well as access to the latest foreign technology and the knowledge of how to use it, which ends up being transferred to local technicians and managers and spreading to local firms.

But that's not how the white paper tells it. "Nearly all the high-performing Asian economies deliberately set out to support prosperity by investing in people, building capital and undertaking institutional change, including expanding the role of markets," it says.

Asia's young people enjoyed marked improvements in their access to education and its quality as governments invested in their youthful populations and dramatically transformed their education and training systems.

"With the benefits of a good education and employment-creating reforms, large numbers of young people have become productively employed as they reached prime working age."

Open global trading systems (created by the successive rounds of multilateral reductions in protection under the predecessor to the World Trade Organisation, to whose trade-promoting rules China signed up in 2001) and the construction of vital infrastructure to reduce transport costs have been drivers of integration between Asia and the rich economies, but also between the Asian economies themselves.

Intricate regional production networks have emerged, along with increased flows of "intermediate goods" (components) between countries in the region. Specialisation within the region, and the consequent economies of scale, have given the region a powerful advantage, particularly in manufactures.

Here's a point that ought to be obvious to older Australians - since they've been able to observe it over their lifetimes - but too few people understand: Asia's most successful economies have continually evolved.

"As incomes have risen in population-dense economies such as Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, and as their labour-intensive activities have become less competitive, Asia's high performers have refocused their production on new areas of consumer demand - developing domestic markets and specialising in high-skill activities."

What oldies should have noticed is the way, over the years, the production of simple, labour-intensive goods - such as clothing, footwear and toys - has migrated from one country to another.

Why? Because, contrary to the propaganda of the unions and the Left, Asian workers get their cut from being exploited by wicked "transnational corporations".

As countries' economies grow, workers' real wages rise.

As well, a fair bit of the prosperity is ploughed back into raising the education level of the workforce.

Eventually, the workers' labour gets too expensive to continue using them to produce simple labour-intensive goods, so production of such goods shifts to the next, undeveloped Asian country.

In the first country, production shifts to using the more-skilled workforce to make more sophisticated manufactures. As well, more of the country's production shifts from export to being bought by the now-more-prosperous locals.

The white paper predicts, as this evolutionary process continues, within 13 years - 2025 - China will be the world's biggest economy, India will be third, Japan forth and Indonesia 10th. China will account for a quarter of gross world product and Asia for almost half.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Asia well-placed to withstand global slowdown

Perhaps it's our natural eurocentricity, but we've been hearing a lot more about recession and the risk of worse in Europe than about the resilience of our own region. Fortunately, the International Monetary Fund set the record straight last week.

At a briefing in Washington, the director of the fund's Asia and Pacific department, Anoop Singh, focused on the counter-weight to the weakness in the North Atlantic economies.

If the euro zone is expected to contract by 0.5 per cent this year and the United States to grow by only 1.8 per cent, how come the world is still expected to grow by a not-so-terrible 3.3 per cent? Mainly because "developing Asia" is forecast to grow by a buoyant 7.3 per cent.

Singh made four main points. First, while growth in Asia has slowed, Asian economies have generally proved resilient to the increased turbulence in global financial markets and are helping to support global growth.

Second, there's certainly a risk of contagion to Asia from any further deterioration in global financial conditions.

But, third, the fund believes that, in the event of further slowdown in the global economy, most economies in Asia have room for "a strong policy response" - that is, room to stimulate their economies to offset the effects from abroad.

And fourth, the recent decline in the current account surpluses of China and many other Asian economies is very welcome. Sustained efforts to continue this decline in the medium term will reduce Asia's exposure to the external risks it's experiencing now, thereby maintaining its support for global growth.

"So, in both the short term and medium term, there are positive factors coming from Asia," Singh said.

On his first point, economic activity in Asia has slowed mainly because the growth in its exports has lost momentum, thanks to weaker growth in regional as well as global trading partners. But robust growth in domestic demand is helping offset this drag from external demand.

In China, the two main components of domestic demand - investment spending and consumption spending - have remained resilient, supported by strong corporate profits and rising household income.

And Asian banks have so far used their strong balance sheets to step in and ensure a continued flow of credit and trade finance in the face of the reduction in lending growth by European banks. As growth has slowed in Asia, inflation pressures have waned. So it's not surprising governments have paused the pace of tightening macro policies, or in some cases reversed it. The fund expects inflation to recede further this year.

The fund expects growth in the overall Asia-Pacific region to remain closed to 6 per cent this year, recovering to 6.5 per cent next year. Within this, emerging Asia will remain the fastest-growing region in the world, led by China and India. In China, growth will remain in the 8 to 8.5 per cent range this year, returning close to 9 per cent next year. In India, growth will stay about 7 per cent.

On his second point, these are just the fund's central forecasts. There's a clear risk an escalation of Europe's debt crisis could cause global growth to be 2 percentage points lower than the central forecast of 3.3 per cent.

Were this to happen, Asia would be greatly affected because the usual effect on its exports would be compounded by an adverse effect on business and consumer confidence, as well as by contagion in the financial sector. So there would be a knock-on effect from external demand to domestic demand.

Moving to his third point, were such a deterioration to occur, policy responses by Asia would be needed, without which the impact on Asia's growth would be substantial. But the fund believes many countries have the room to respond.

For many, the room is greater on the fiscal (budgetary) side than the monetary (interest rate) side. The pace at which countries are reducing their budget deficits could certainly be slowed, particularly in those with low levels of public debt, such as China. More than that, some countries could undertake another round of fiscal stimulus.

"Indeed, many Asian countries could advance their plans, which they already have over the medium term, to boost social safety nets and increase consumption and investment," Singh said.

These policies would have long-term positive effects on "rebalancing" - increasing domestic demand and thus reducing reliance on external demand - and growth, as well as reducing income inequality, which remains an issue in many Asian countries.

As for monetary policy, monetary tightening has appropriately been paused in many Asian economies, with some beginning to reverse this tightening. But the room for further easing is limited in economies where underlying inflation pressures remain, such as India. China has little room because it's still absorbing the stimulus from its previous credit expansion of the past two years.

As usual on these occasions, Australia hardly rated a mention. Except for this: "The authorities have certainly committed to return to [budget] surplus by 2012-13, and we have supported that. The authorities have believed that an exit from fiscal deficits is needed to rebuild fiscal buffers and support monetary policy," Singh said.

"Having said that, it is also the case that were downside risks to materialise, with a further slowing of the global economy, in Australia the authorities probably have more policy flexibility than almost any other advanced economy.

"Why? It currently has probably one of the highest policy interest rates, and it probably has the lowest net public debt-to-GDP ratio.

"So, clearly, Australia has the ability to take actions if there were to be a further external deterioration."

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The real action is in the developing world

If the US, the world's biggest economy, starts to contract again and the Europeans' government debt problems prompt more austerity, the world economy will be plunged back into recession. Is that what you think? If so, your picture of the world economy is about 20 years out of date.

There are cultural, historical, family and language reasons why we focus our attention on Europe and the US. The media keeps us well informed about what's happening in their economies. And since, between them, they account for a big chunk of the world economy, it's easy to assume that where they go the rest of the world follows.

Indeed, that used to be true. When I first got into this game, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development used to make forecasts for its 24 rich-member countries, add them up and call it the world economy.

But consider these figures from the Reserve Bank's latest statement on monetary policy. Over the four-and-a-bit years since the March quarter of 2007, the world economy has grown by about 10 per cent in real terms.

The contribution of the North Atlantic economies (the US, Canada, Britain and the euro area) to that growth was near enough to zero. So all the net growth the world's seen in that time has come from the remaining, mainly developing, economies.

Between them, the Chinese and Indian economies have grown by nearly 50 per cent, while east Asia (excluding China and Japan) grew by almost 20 per cent.

The faster the developing countries grow relative to the rich countries, the larger their share of the world economy becomes. An article in The Economist points to the many respects in which the world economy is coming to be dominated by the "emerging economies", as they're increasingly called.

As many as 11 of these economies have emerged to the point where they've been reclassified as developed rather than developing. But when you do that, you understate the extent to which the developing countries are taking over the running. So the figures that follow classify as developing all those countries that hadn't made it to developed status before 1997.

The developed countries account for only about 15 per cent of the world's population, but in 1990 they accounted for 80 per cent of gross world product. By last year that share had dropped to 60 per cent. It is projected to fall to less than half within the next seven years.

But that calculation is based on converting each country's gross domestic product into US dollars at market rates. This understates the developing countries' share of gross world product (GDP) because one US dollar buys a lot more in poor countries than in rich countries.

When you adjust for "purchasing-power parity" you find the developing countries' share of gross world product reached 50 per cent three years ago and is expected to reach 54 per cent this year. Their share of world exports has reached half, which is almost double what it was in 1990.

Much of these exports would be produced by multinational companies operating in developing countries, so it's no surprise the developing countries attract more than half of all the inflows of foreign direct investment.

So far, this conforms to the popular perception of developing countries as economies that make their living selling cheap exports to rich countries. But The Economist observes that "foreign firms are increasingly lured by these countries' fast-growing domestic markets as much as [by] lower wages".

That's the point: developing countries are increasingly standing on their own feet, generating their growth internally.

The mainstays of "domestic demand" are capital (investment) spending and consumer spending. The developing countries now account for more than half the world's capital spending, compared with a quarter 10 years ago.

Last year the US's capital spending was just 16 per cent of its GDP compared with 49 per cent in China. (Ours was 28 per cent.)

The developing countries' share of world consumer spending is only 34 per cent, though this is up from 24 per cent 10 years ago (and would be higher if you allowed for the lower prices they pay for housing and services).

Even so, their shares are: 46 per cent of world retail sales; 52 per cent of all new car sales (up from 22 per cent in 2000) and 82 per cent of all mobile phone subscriptions.

You can see from this how rapidly living standards are rising in poor countries. And when the locals start spending, some of that spending is on imports. Last year the developing countries' share of world imports rose to 47 per cent.

So whereas we're accustomed to thinking of developing countries as dependent on rich countries, it's becoming more the case that the rich countries depend on the developing countries.

Even so, because the developing countries are still at the early stages of developing their economies, their demand for basic commodities - whether locally produced or imported - exceeds their demand for sophisticated goods and services.

They account for 60 per cent of the world's annual energy consumption, 65 per cent of all copper consumption and 75 per cent of all steel use. Yet, as The Economist remarks, there's plenty of room for growth: they use 55 per cent of the world's oil but their consumption per person is still less than a fifth of that in the rich world. (Always assuming we don't run out of oil, of course.)

And here's a pertinent reason the developing countries are likely to continue growing faster than the North Atlantic economies: they're responsible for only 17 per cent of the world's government debt.

No prize for having guessed the punchline: the rich countries likely to do best over the rest of this troubled decade are those most closely plugged into the developing world.

Heard of a poor, cautious, sorry-for-itself country called Australia? It sells less than 10 per cent of its exports to Europe and only 5 per cent to the US, but about two-thirds to developing countries.

Most of those countries are in Asia, of course, the most dynamic part of the world economy. In just the past 10 years, China's share of our exports of goods and services has gone from 5 per cent to 23 per cent, and India's has risen from 2 per cent to 7 per cent.

As Wayne Swan keeps saying, Australia is in the right place at the right time.


Saturday, May 28, 2011

East moves west - more than a miner miracle

You'd need to be living under a rock not to have heard that the world's centre of economic gravity is moving from west to east - towards us. But most of us are yet to appreciate the full ramifications of this change in the globe's economic geography.

The shift is occurring because of the re-emergence of China and India as major economic powers. Why re-emergence? Because in the 18th century - before the West's industrial revolution - the two accounted for almost half of gross world product.

By 1990, China and India's share of world gross domestic product was down to less than a 10th. Today it's about a fifth and expected to be more than a quarter by the end of this decade. By 2030 it may be as much as a third.

Everyone knows the rapid industrialisation and urbanisation of these two countries is the cause of our present resources boom. But as Treasury points out in its annual sermon (otherwise known as budget statement No. 4), there's more to it.

''As China and India continue to develop, the growing cities now driving demand for Australia's mineral resources will be populated by an increasingly wealthy and upwardly mobile middle class, with incomes and tastes to match,'' Treasury says.

''Increasing consumer purchasing power and changing spending patterns will open up new, often unforeseen, opportunities for Australia - well beyond those flowing from the current mining boom.''

One study has estimated that the number of middle-class consumers in Asia could increase by more than 1.2 billion people by 2020. If so, these projections would mean that by the end of this decade Asia would have more middle-class consumers than the rest of the world combined, with China surpassing the United States as the world's single largest middle-class market in terms of dollars.

By 2030, with India following China's lead, the world could have gone from mostly poor to mostly middle class, with two-thirds of the world's middle-class consumers living in our region.

(Like all projections by economists, this one confidently assumes the natural resources and ecosystem services needed to make this possible will be readily obtained - presumably, from another planet. But let's not allow ecological realities to spoil our happy economic analysis.)

In poor countries, spending on basic goods typically accounts for quite a high share of GDP, with household incomes barely covering the necessities of life. Then, in the early stages of economic development, a surge in investment spending causes consumption's share of GDP to fall quite sharply.

In time, however, continued growth allows a larger middle class to devote more money to purchasing luxury goods and services, both in absolute terms and as a share of household spending. As a result, consumer spending's share of GDP recovers as economies reach middle-income status.

China's consumption-to-GDP ratio has declined markedly in recent decades, reaching a low of only 35 per cent in 2009. (Our proportion is about 55 per cent, which is lower than it used to be because of our much higher investment in new mining capacity.)

But China is fast approaching income levels where consumption often turns, and the Chinese government is focused on reforms to foster higher growth in household incomes and to rebalance the economy towards domestic demand. So Treasury says there's considerable scope for a strong rise in the consumption ratio in the medium term.

We know from the earlier experience of countries such as Japan and South Korea in travelling down this road that as the amount of consumer spending grows its composition changes. As they become more affluent, people devote a higher proportion of their spending to services and consumer durables.

The early stages of such a shift are already evident in China. Since the early 1990s, its urban households have devoted a declining proportion of their spending to food and increasing proportions to medical services, transport and communication, and education, recreation and culture.

If you divide urban households into four groups according to their incomes, you find that, as incomes rise, households devote smaller and smaller proportions to food, and bigger and bigger proportions to services.

Urban households constitute a large and growing proportion of China's 400 million households (Australia has 8.5 million). Just over the past 10 years, the proportion of urban households owning a car has gone from virtually none to 12 per cent. The proportion owning microwave ovens has gone from 16 per cent to 58 per cent.

And get this: the number of computers owned per 100 households has gone from eight to 70, while the number of mobile phones has gone from 16 to 188. So ''new technology'' goods are spreading faster than household appliances.

On the ladder of goods and services to which people with growing incomes aspire, after consumer durables come culture, tourism and advanced education.

On overseas tourism, China and India's sheer population size mean they're starting to overtake those countries formerly dominant in providing tourists, the US, Britain and Japan. In 1995, about 4.5 million people from mainland China and 3 million from India travelled abroad for business and leisure.

By 2009, China's travellers had increased tenfold to 48 million, meaning it was close to catching up with the US and Britain. India had experienced a three- to four-fold increase to 11 million travellers a year.

And all this before the rise of the middle class has really got going.

Australia, of course, is already getting its cut. China and India's share of our education exports has risen sharply. China's share of our wine exports is now five times larger than it was five years ago. Tourist arrivals from China have more than trebled in the past decade - overtaking Japan in 2008-09 - and are catching up with those from the US.

Of course, not all the opportunities created by Asia's rising middle class will fall within areas of our comparative advantage. And to maximise even those opportunities that do fit our bill we'll need to continue to change and innovate. Competition with other countries will be fierce. As their own education systems improve, a smaller proportion of Chinese and Indians may seek education abroad.

And Treasury says it's not possible to forecast the exact mix of goods and services that will be demanded, let alone the shape of the global economy that will best service these demands. You can say that again.


Saturday, May 21, 2011

Adapt or die: the high dollar is here to stay

The big ''known unknown'' facing the economy is how long commodity prices and the Aussie dollar will stay so high. That's why some people worry so much about the Chinese economy coming unstuck.

But while the new secretary of the Treasury, Dr Martin Parkinson, acknowledges the risks facing China's economy, his ''central scenario'' is that commodity prices and the Aussie will stay high for a long time.

This means that, though he declined to actually say the words in his speech to the Australian Business Economists in Sydney this week, he's no believer in ''Dutch disease'' - the idea that resources booms lead to a high exchange rate, which wipes out other export and import-competing industries before the boom collapses and leaves you high and dry.

No, Parkinson has a tough message for manufacturers and others asking for assistance to help them cope with the excruciatingly high dollar: get used to it. Adapt.

There are risks facing the Chinese economy, but they are short-term risks around a positive long-term outlook. ''Our central scenario, outlined in the budget, is one of solid medium-term growth for Australia,'' he said, fuelled by high commodity prices and a mining construction boom.

The global economy is undergoing a transformation unprecedented in the last 100 years. Global strategic and economic weight is moving inexorably from the Western advanced economies towards the emerging market economies. And the pace of this transformation is faster than many expected.

The key emerging markets from our perspective are China and India, which together account for slightly more than a third of the world's population. They're growing rapidly and should continue to do so. China should overtake the United States to become the world's largest economy by 2016 and, in turn, be overtaken by India by mid-century.

''There is nothing pre-ordained about these growth paths, and size does not automatically confer economic or strategic weight,'' Parkinson said. ''But these transitions - whether smooth or rocky - have important implications for Australia. Indeed, they constitute probably the most significant external shock Australia has ever experienced.''

Urbanisation and industrialisation in China and India have resulted in strong demand for our energy and mineral resources. The resulting improved terms of trade have increased our real income as the purchasing power of our exports increased.

Looking ahead, a growing Asian middle class will boost demand for our commodities, and for our services exports - education, tourism and professional services - and for niche, high-end manufactures.

But these developments expose our economy to increased macro-economic volatility and, more importantly, to a difficult adjustment process. That's Parkinson's point: it's not just China and India that are economies in transition, it's us, too.

Our terms of trade are now at 140-year highs and the budget assumes they fall back only slowly, by about 20 per cent over 15 years. As for the Aussie dollar, it can be expected to move roughly in line with the terms of trade over the longer term. It's therefore expected to also remain persistently high.

''The implications of a sustained increase in the terms of trade and a persistently high exchange rate are significantly different to those of a temporary shock - particularly for the structure of the economy,'' Parkinson said.

Most Australian businesses are well equipped to deal with short-term exchange rate volatility, but this sustained shift ''will challenge a number of existing business models''.

''Inevitably, this will see calls for support for producers that are suffering from a lack of competitiveness due to a 'temporarily' high exchange rate,'' he said, before going on to explain why such calls should be resisted.

Higher resource prices will see capital and labour shift towards the mining sector, where they are more valuable. This shift will be facilitated by the appreciation of the exchange rate, which shifts domestic demand towards imports and reduces the competitiveness of exports and import-competing activities.

Manufacturing and other trade-exposed sectors that aren't benefiting from higher commodity prices will come under particular pressure, but all sectors will be affected. The longer-term shift away from parts of the traditional manufacturing sector, which began in the middle of the last century, will continue - though it would be wrong to assume all manufacturing will be adversely affected.

And while mining and related sectors (including the mining-related part of manufacturing) can be expected to continue to grow - drawing resources from the rest of the economy - they will be overshadowed by the longer-term shift towards the services sector.

This change to our economy - its structural evolution - reflects a prolonged shift in our comparative advantage that began in the second half of last century, as rapidly industrialising Asian countries emerged as labour-abundant (read cheap-labour) competitors.

The latest phase in this evolution is raising understandable concerns in people's minds: how are the benefits of the boom shared throughout the community? Will our manufacturing sector be ''hollowed out'' and ''lost forever'' leaving us as ''nothing but a quarry''? What if the boom suddenly stops, as all previous booms have?

''Concerns like these are being reflected in calls for measures to protect sectors threatened by the structural shift in our terms of trade,'' Parkinson said. ''They drive calls for strengthening anti-dumping legislation, intervention to deliver a lower exchange rate and increased industry assistance.''

Why is there so much discomfort in the community about this transformation? Because it involves change and change is often difficult. Because the short-term costs of adjustment are concentrated in particular sectors. But also because what's happening - the longer-term structural nature of the change - is not well understood.

People need to be reminded, for instance, that a higher exchange rate helps spread the benefits of the resources boom through the community by reducing the price of imported goods and services.

They need to be reminded the economy is always changing - far more than we realise. Each year, about 300,000 businesses are born and a similar number die. About 2 million workers start new jobs and a similar number leave their jobs. And about 500,000 workers a year change industries.

The gravity point of world trade is shifting closer to us, giving us the opportunity to become a lot richer.

''However, if we are to take advantage of these opportunities it is likely to require more change in the structure [of the economy] and, perhaps more importantly, in the mindset of Australian businesses and the skill sets of Australian workers.''


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Only part of our fortune is down to minerals

If it exercises my doctor's mind I imagine it occurs to a lot of people: are we a stuffed nation living off our mineral wealth? The thought that we're making a lot of our income merely by digging stuff out of the ground and shipping it overseas seems to worry a lot of people. Is that the best we can do?

Considering the fuss politicians, economists and the media are making about the resources boom, you could be forgiven for thinking mining had taken over the economy, but it isn't true. A lot of people think a nation makes its living by selling stuff to the rest of the world. That isn't true, either. Roughly 80 per cent of all the goods and services Australians produce (gross domestic product) is sold to Australians, not foreigners. Similarly, roughly 80 per cent of the goods and services Australians buy is bought from Australians.

In other words, our economy is roughly 80 per cent self-sufficient. At a pinch, we could make it completely self-sufficient, though this would involve a significant decline in our standard of living. Why? Because we'd be denying ourselves access to all those goods and services that other countries produce better or more cheaply than we could.

Here you see the only reason we need to sell things to the rest of the world: so we can afford to import things from the rest of the world. All of us enjoy those imports, but the notion that 80 per cent of us survive by living off the 20 per cent who produce exports is quite mistaken.

Economies work by a process of specialisation and exchange. We each specialise in producing something we're good at, sell what we produce for money (usually wages), then use the money to buy the things we need from other producers. Most of this trade occurs within Australia, but extending our trade to people in other countries makes both them and us better off, because we've got stuff they want and they've got stuff we want.

Thanks to the industrialisation of China and India - accounting for almost 40 per cent of the world's population - the rest of the world is prepared to pay record prices for our coal and iron ore. Those prices won't stay at record levels but, because the process of industrialisation takes quite a few decades, they're likely to stay a lot higher than they were for a long time.

Though minerals and energy now account for about 42 per cent of our export earnings, this still leaves 58 per cent coming from other parts of the economy: 18 per cent from agriculture, 17 per cent from manufacturing and 23 per cent from services (particularly tourism and education).

When you get down to it, mining accounts for only 7 per cent of the value of all the goods and services Australians produce. That leaves agriculture accounting for 3 per cent, manufacturing for 12 per cent and the services sector for 78 per cent.

We have a lingering tendency to denigrate the services sector because it doesn't produce anything you can see and touch. But this is silly. As our standard of living has risen over the years, services account for an ever-increasing proportion of the things we buy (there is, after all, a limit to how much we can eat and how many cars and TV sets we need). And, as we've seen, it's not even true that we can't export services.

It turns out that 84 per cent of working Australians are employed in the services sector - similar to other advanced economies. And although some service jobs are menial - chambermaids, cleaners, waiters and shop assistants - most of the clean, safe, highly skilled, well-paid and intellectually satisfying jobs are in the services sector: doctors, lawyers, bankers, architects, engineers, managers, consultants, clergy, accountants, journalists, actors, media personalities, academics, teachers and many more.

Take away mining and we wouldn't be quite as rich as we are, but most of the economy would look much the same as it does. Most of us would still have good, secure, well-paid jobs.

In other words, our economy has a lot more going for it than just the good fortune of sitting on a lot of valuable minerals.

In Australia, as in every country, public discussion focuses on the bits that aren't working as well as we'd like them to. The bits that are working well get taken for granted. It would be a pity if all this left people with the impression things in Australia are substandard. They're not.

The level of educational attainment in Australia is high and ever-rising. Tests show our 15-year-olds' literacy, numeracy and science are well above average for the developed countries. Seven of our universities are ranked in the top 200 in the world.

With the notable exception of Aborigines, Australians' health is good by international standards. Our longevity is among the highest in the world. So despite all our complaints, we have a good health system, delivering better results than the Americans' at a much lower cost.

Our material standard of living is around average for the rich countries, but likely to go higher. Our gap between rich and poor is also about average, but not as bad as the other English-speaking countries.

For the past 20 years we've had a particularly well-managed economy, with low inflation, falling unemployment and a rising standard of living. Our banks have been well-supervised and kept out of trouble. Most other advanced economies have huge levels of public debt, but ours is minor.

It's true our mineral riches won't last forever, so we do have to make sure we invest the proceeds wisely, particularly in education. But even without mining we still have a healthy, prosperous economy.


Saturday, June 19, 2010

Population fall poses immense new challenges

Peter Costello used to say demography is destiny. Like many of the things he said, that's an exaggeration. But it is going to have a big effect on your future.

Demography is the study of human populations. In principle, it's quite separate from economics. But economists are likely to be saying a lot more about it - and boning up on it - because demographic change will have a big effect on the thing they care about most: the growth of the economy.

Actually, as you realise when you read the article by Jamie Hall and Andrew Stone in this quarter's Reserve Bank Bulletin, demographic change has always had a big effect on the growth in gross domestic product.

It's just that, because so far its effect on growth has been positive, we've been able to take it for granted. From about now, however, its effect is likely to be negative, so we'll be taking a lot more notice.

Leaving aside migration (as we will do in this article), the main factor that drives population growth is the fertility rate - the number of babies per woman. (The death rate also matters, obviously, but we'll also take rising longevity as read.)

The world's population has been growing rapidly for most of the past century, thanks to improvements in public health, medical science and economic development. But the global fertility rate has been falling sharply since the end of the postwar baby boom. From five babies per woman it's now down to about 2, thanks to the spread of effective contraception and rising living standards.

United Nations projections foresee the rate falling to two babies per woman by the middle of this century, which is lower than the replacement rate of 2.1 babies.

So the rate of growth in the world's population has been slowing for decades and, while population is expected to continue growing until the second half of this century, it will then start to decline.

Get that: some of our youngsters will live to see the world's population falling. But population decline will start earlier in some countries than others. Indeed, it's already started in Japan and Germany. And it won't be just the rich countries where population is falling.

The growth in a country's output of goods and services (GDP) can be viewed as coming from two sources: growth in the input of labour and improvement in the productivity of that labour. Three main factors determine the growth in the input of labour: growth in the population, growth in the proportion of the population that is of working age, and changes in the rate at which people of working age choose to participate in the labour force. (Again for simplicity we'll ignore changes in the participation rate.)

Over the 10 years to 2005 the United States' average growth in real GDP was 3.3 per cent a year. Turns out that 1.1 percentage points of that growth came from increased population (meaning it did nothing to raise America's standard of living) and 0.2 percentage points came from the rising proportion of the population that was of working age (here assumed to be those aged between 15 and 64).

But now Hall and Stone estimate that, over the 10 years to 2020, the average annual contribution to economic growth from population increase will be a smaller 0.9 percentage points, and the contribution from change in the working-age share will be minus 0.3 percentage points.

In other words, America's average rate of economic growth is expected to be 0.8 percentage points a year (or about a quarter) less, simply because of direct demographic change. The equivalent expected declines in the demographic contribution are 0.6 percentage points for Japan, 0.3 points for Germany and 0.2 points for Italy.

Why is America's loss likely to be greatest? Because demographic change is only now catching up with it. The others have already taken a fair bit of their medicine. It turns out that most of Japan's "lost decade" of weak economic growth is explained by its ageing and now declining population. Without that, its growth was much the same as Germany's.

So far we've tended to think of slow-growing or falling population as an issue purely for the developed countries. But Hall and Stone demonstrate that the coming decade will see demographic change making a reduced contribution to growth throughout Asia.

What's more, China's population will start to fall slowly in about 20 years' time and South Korea's population will peak in 10 year's time and then fall quite rapidly.

Looking again at the 10 years to 2005, China's economic growth averaged 8.8 per cent a year. Of this, 0.8 percentage points came from population increase and 0.6 percentage points from a higher working-age share.

Over the coming 10 years, however, Hall and Stone estimate that population's contribution to growth will slow to 0.6 points a year and the working-age share's contribution will be minus 0.3 per cent. So demography's contribution to growth will be 1.2 points a year lower than in the previous period.

Now take Korea. Demography contributed 0.7 percentage points to its average economic growth of 4.4 per cent a year in the first period, but will make a zero contribution over the coming decade.

The general story for east Asia (the five main ASEAN countries plus Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong, but excluding China and Japan) is that demography's contribution of 1.8 percentage points (or almost half) during the 10 years to 2005 will fall to 1 percentage point in the coming decade.

But two Asian countries stand out from this general picture of demographic change making a significantly reduced contribution to economic growth over the next 10 years. Population growth in Indonesia and India will be slowing, but still relatively strong.

So the demographic contribution in Indonesia will slow only from 1.9 percentage points a year to 1.2 points a year. In India it will slow only from 2.2 points a year to 1.6 points.

Much of the demographic difference between China on one hand and India and Indonesia on the other would be explained by differences in population control policies, particularly China's one-child policy, which is about to really make its presence felt. (The main explanation for Korea, I suspect, is simply rising affluence prompting people to have fewer kids.)

But however it's explained, the likelihood is that, in about 2030, India will overtake China as the most populous country. So rest assured, economists will be saying a lot more about demography in coming years.